Going High Tech In Rural Settings

For those of us living in the country and struggling to make ends meet, the lure of employment “just a mouse click away” can be tempting. My journey towards the home office was rooted in the terrible events of 9/11. They really shook me up. At the time, I was working in San Francisco but had worked in the Trade Centers for several years and had friends who were killed. Life in the Bay Area felt exposed and unsafe. I couldn’t be sure whether the sense of danger was real or just perceived, but I decided not to wait around and find out. Within three months, I had purchased 40 acres of raw land in rural Oregon to become a new pioneer.

I was able to retain my well-paying Silicon Valley tech job while avoiding the traditional dues of city life. The air was clean, the distractions few, and I liked the look of solar panels basking in the sun. About the only cause for complaint was spotty internet service and a somewhat cold stream I used for bathing.

But man was not made to live alone, and I soon fell in love with the woman who was to be my wife. We abandoned my original homestead and moved to a larger property with better amenities—most notably hot water! We poured ourselves into that new life, raising a family and retail farm to go with it. And the whole time I was still employed by that tech company. It took a while, but a decade later I realized that I was no longer the company asset I was when I left the city.

Teleconferences and emails proved no substitute for water cooler chitchat, and I slowly lost touch with the pulse of the company. Farm life kept my mind alert to weather and seasons, but I knew very little of smartphones and other breakthroughs in technology.

HIGH-TECH SOLUTION: Fortunately, we now live in a world of high-quality and low-cost online education, allowing even those of us in the country to keep pace. In my case, I decided to pursue a degree in artificial intelligence and found the mental stimulation a pleasant offset to the day-to- day monotony of farm chores.

Whatever your interests, it’s my opinion that continuing education is a must for anyone looking for a long and successful career working from home. Just think of it as a substitute for the two-hour daily commute you’ve avoided.

SETTING BOUNDARIES: The other major challenge in working from home is the manner in which you interact with your family. In a conventional city life, one bids the family farewell in the morning and (hopefully) arrives to a welcome home that evening. But when working from home, and particularly when it is a farm, those boundaries are ill defined. For example, you need to communicate to your family that although you are present in the home—often visible or in earshot— you are not to be disturbed. This message is particularly difficult for children to understand and will almost certainly evoke a sense of insecurity in their minds.

Learning to balance your parental duties against those imposed by your employer is a monumental task, which drives at the heart of what it means to be a parent. I don’t pretend to have this balance mastered, but I do have one suggestion: If you have a door, keep it shut. If you don’t have a door, install one or at least tack up a curtain.

TIME MANAGEMENT: Another difficult area of home employment is that of time management. The old saying “bringing your work home with you” takes on a whole new dimension when your home and workplace lack physical separation; one cannot rely on the traditional commute to make the mental transition from office to home.

On the other hand, if you can develop the ability to shift between the two, a world of multi-tasking awaits. In my situation, for example, I frequently ponder work-related problems while cultivating the fields, moving the animals, or even just drying the dishes. Just remember to keep the multitasking theme moderate. In the words of Sir Heneage Ogilvie, “The really idle man gets nowhere. The perpetually busy man does not get much further.” —Milan Young